Why I’ll be voting no
TRIGGER WARNING: Argument against same-sex marriage follows, please don’t read any further if you are easily offended.
In 2008 over 80 pieces of legislation were amended to remove all practical discrimination against same-sex couples in Australia, which happened without controversy or opposition. This proves the same-sex marriage debate is not about same-sex couples, it is about marriage.
The same-sex marriage debate is actually between 2 broad, competing views of marriage:
1. Traditional view: marriage is a committed, intimate union between a man and a woman, with the ability to unite any child they may have with its own mother and father – the main social benefit of marriage is to ensure intimate relationships between men and women are committed, so children they produce don’t have to grow up without their mother or father.
2. Progressive view: marriage is a committed, intimate union between any two adults – the main social benefit of marriage is to recognise and encourage loving, committed relationships.
On the progressive view, same-sex marriage makes perfect sense and it is unjust discrimination against same-sex couples to not legally recognise same-sex marriage.
But on the traditional view, same-sex marriage makes absolutely no sense (it’s an oxymoron), and so it is obviously not unjust discrimination against same-sex couples to define marriage as being exclusively between a man and a woman.
Therefore, the debate isn’t really about ‘same-sex marriage’ per se, but rather over which view of marriage is more reasonable. That’s why the phrase ‘marriage equality’ is meaningless until we first determine what the word ‘marriage’ actually means.
So the question is: does the traditional or progressive view of marriage have more merit?
There are 3 fundamental inconsistencies with the progressive view of marriage, as it is unclear why marriage is necessarily:
1. A sexual relationship, as opposed to a non-sexual relationship such as between siblings or lifelong friends;
2. A union between 2 people, as opposed to 3 or more in a polyamorous relationship; and
3. A legally recognised, regulated union, since the government doesn’t intervene in other types of personal relationships.
The standard response to the first one is to suggest sexual relationships are inherently more loving and committed than non-sexual relationships, which is highly problematic: just look at relationships within most families compared to many sexual relationships which quickly break up or even involve violence.
The typical rebuttal of the second one is to dismiss it as ‘slippery-slope’ reasoning, which completely misses the point: it’s not that same-sex marriage will quickly lead to polyamorous marriage, it’s sim-ply that denying polyamorous marriage isn’t logically consistent with the progressive view of marriage. This conclusion was reached by the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, John Roberts, who probably knows a bit about legal reasoning…
And the usual counterargument to the third one is to suggest society has an interest in loving, committed relationships. This is true insofar as there are ‘economies of scale’ by having people living together and governments need to intervene less if people look after each other. But the obvious rebuttal is that these limited social benefits of marriage would also apply to many other relationships (roommates, siblings, lifelong friends, etc.) and thereby makes marriage so broad as to be virtually meaningless.
So for these 3 reasons, the progressive view of marriage makes no sense. Since the idea of same-sex marriage is underpinned by the progressive view of marriage, this completely undermines the case for redefining marriage to include same-sex couples.
But then what about the traditional view of marriage?
There are 4 common criticisms:
1. Not all marriages produce children, due to infertility and decisions not to have children, so marriage isn’t about children;
2. There is a high divorce rate, so marriage doesn’t necessarily unite a child to its mother and father for life;
3. There are many bad and abusive heterosexual parents, so a child having a mother and a father isn’t always desirable; and
4. Studies show there are no differences between outcomes for children of heterosexual couples and children of same-sex couples.
But these 4 objections are easily refuted:
a. While not all marriages produce children, any child born into a marriage as it is currently defined is united to its own mother and father. So marriage still upholds and protects the right of a child to be united to the mother and father who created it.
b. If a heterosexual couple doesn’t procreate, it is due to either a medical problem with its procreative nature or a decision not to use it at a given point in time, which is completely different to a same-sex couple or single person where there is simply the absence of a procreative nature altogether and procreation is impossible in principle.
c. Not all marriages involve love – there are arranged marriages, for instance. But this doesn’t mean love is irrelevant to marriage: on principle, two people who commit to each other for life are open to, and have the potential for, a loving relationship. Similarly, a man and a woman who commit to each other for life are open to, and have the potential for, producing children.
2. While the high divorce rate is concerning, a divorce is a marriage gone wrong, which just means the institution of marriage isn’t perfect. Just because everyone doesn’t live up to the ideal doesn’t mean we should abandon it altogether. It is not contradictory to believe both that it would be better for society if there was less divorce and also that marriage is an important institution because it unites children to their own mother and father.
3. It is possible to think that, on average, a mother and a father is the ideal for a child, and still strenuously condemn abusive mothers and fathers. There is no logical inconsistency between these two propositions.
4. Some studies show no differences between outcomes for children of heterosexual parents and children of same-sex couples, but then on the other hand some studies show that children of hetero-sexual parents are far better off than children of same-sex couples (see for example the research by Mark Regnerus, or Paul Sullins, or Douglas Allen). There is conflicting evidence in the relevant literature on the subject. As expected and as usual with a lot of social science, the relevant studies tend to have small sample sizes, a lack of controls, and self-reporting (see Loren Marks’ reviews of the research), which means they should be taken with a grain of salt. But ultimately, the idea mothers and fathers are different and complementary is based on thousands of years of human experience, across almost all cultures and religions, and hence much more evidence would be required to take away the special status in law and culture marriage gives to the biological family.
Therefore, the traditional view of marriage is sound, and same-sex marriage should be rejected since it is not consistent with this.
Even leaving aside the principled arguments above, from a practical public policy perspective redefining marriage is also problematic.
Firstly, it will lead to a greater shift towards the progressive view of marriage, with a focus on the adults’ love rather than uniting children to their mother and father. Even more people will enter marriage thinking it is ‘just about love’ (the central argument for same-sex marriage) and so will be less committed for the sake of any children they may have. The primary concern isn’t the relatively small number of children in same-sex households; rather, it is a further shift away from the child-centred view of marriage, leading to more divorce and more children growing up without their mother or father.
Secondly, redefining marriage has led to attacks on free speech and freedom of religion overseas. The recent article by Paul Kelly in The Australian documents such cases in detail.
For example, there have been numerous examples of Christian wedding photographers or bakers being taken to court and fined for simply refusing to service same-sex weddings. This represents a totally unreasonable intervention from government, whereby it imposes its arbitrary new view of marriage on individuals who have always held to a view of marriage based on thousands of years of tradition, and punishes them if they will not accept it.